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Inhaling steadily, exhaling gently into the fieriness of developing Manzanita skin and glistening like Mountain Mahogany. 

It’s Thursday and I’m alone at the art gallery that’s connected to the library. I’ve just returned some books, picked up a few books and made my way into the show. I’m impressed at how much of the wall space isn’t used, the way the light streams in, and how high the ceiling feels on this particular day. There are two video artists that draw me in before I make my way to the front door. As I approach the door, my hand starts to pull the large metal handle, the bird slams into the glass, bounces back into the air, lifts their body up and spirals over the roof. My breath goes in and I hold it while I watch their body hurling. Both of us stunned and one of us, possibly, very badly hurt. My eyes focus on the building, it’s made of white painted concrete and a lot of glass. Walls turn into windows that turn into more walls and there’s a glass door, propped open, that leads to an outdoor courtyard with the sculpture of a large black head on a pillar. I exhale. If designed right, this open door could be the way in for this bird. And out. I mean a door for this bird, if they wanted, to join this someone, who’s alone, in the gallery connected to the library. And maybe they would sit, taking in the art, chatting in a way that only this bird and this person can. Or quietly, together, watching the video of an artist stitch words into a long cloth on a mountain. Or maybe they would take to the wide open floor to move their bodies, without shoes, in the sunlight, reminding each other that it’s going to be ok. In the way that only this bird and this person can.

Bird in the Glass : 6 x 6 inches : nettle and oak gall ink that will fade, May 2023

This month, I had the pleasure of contributing to the Love for Analogue Stories for my dear friends at Baum-Kuchen.


I’m Jen Herzig Smith and I create ink and art with plants from my garden. I live in the beautiful Northeast Los Angeles community of Eagle Rock on Tongva land. There are a few mugwort leaves under my pillow. I’m especially fond of the daily tools I use, like MD notebooks and two LAMY fountain pens. I love the wildness in the garden, the work that I do and have a few stories to share.


As I’m still waking up, I crack open the door. Lily, the dog, takes one sniff, makes a u-turn and goes back to bed. I’ve been drawn by an urgent high pitch chirp coming from the large elderly deodar cedar that shades the garden. Initially it sounds like one voice. As I stop and listen I can hear another kind of chirping close by, faintly. And another. And another. Beyond those voices is a full chorus of chattering young birds harmonizing with the rushing freeway in the distance. It’s still dark outside. The candle is lit, at both ends, as the rest of the family sleeps. I make my way into the garden and Lily is suddenly there, in search of lizards. I start to notice what’s going on this morning. The poppies are a little taller. For the first time, there are purple flowers on stems jutting out from under the bottom of the black sage. Near the soap plant is the tiniest of mushrooms peeking up in the middle of the path. There is a hummingbird nest on the tip of a cedar branch, swaying just above the hummingbird sage. The slight breeze reminds me that I have skin. I walk over to the porch and pull out my poetry notebook.

MD notebook with Frame. The border is just enough to keep the writing in.

The snap pad is a new tool for me. I’m enjoying the ease and flexibility that it offers.


As I walk with the kind man, who makes medicine with plants, I’m focusing on what I can learn. Taking in every word as we make our way along the trail. There are four of us. Another woman carrying a young baby, the man and me. He doesn’t say much, except to point out certain plants along the way and explain a little bit about each one. The soil beneath our feet is a medium shade of reddish brown. California plantain dots the fields that surround us. I’m camping with a large group of people. Many of them I don’t know. I was invited by a friend and decided that it could be fun to camp in the Sequoia’s with my kids for a week. This kind of gathering of people isn’t something I seek out. In fact, being with a bunch of people that I don’t know is a bit frightening. As we walk, the man and the other woman start talking. My mind wanders and when I come back into the conversation I hear him say that women don’t listen anymore. It takes me by surprise and I also recognize that what he’s saying is filled with wisdom, not spite. I start thinking about when I was younger, and how I would listen more and speak less. And how it’s more difficult now. I share this with him and he nods his head up and down with a hmmm. We continue on our way, walking quietly back to camp.

I am reminded everyday with my customized Traveler’s notebook.


I notice nettle showing up in the garden. This particular nettle loves the area by the chicken coop, near the fence that lines the neighbors concrete driveway. This part of the garden soaks in the sun from the West. The cedar branches, that are old and large, sit way up high, unable to provide respite from the intense afternoon heat. When I’ve seen nettle on trails in California, the leaves are huge, often bigger than my hand and the height of the plant is at least up to my waist. The nettles that I notice in our yard are much smaller. They send themselves out far and thin. As I bring more native plants into the garden, I decide to replace the small (dwarf) nettle with California nettle. Although I chuckle a little at how this sounds redundant, in my heart I know that it’s essential. Replacing dwarf nettle with California nettle is a little gift that the earth needs right now. Along with other kinds of seeds, I sprinkle nettle seeds into their own tray before planting them in the ground. California nettle is one of the first of the green sprouts to peek through the soil, in their own tray and many of the other trays they’ve hopped into. The nettle is so abundant that I plant them in all different parts of the garden, where they are now thriving. This particular nettle loves the morning sun from the east along with nuzzling the base of the cedar tree near our driveway.

Nettle brings beautiful color to the papers that I use in my work. The smallest MD notebook is the perfect size for one swatch of ink with a note on the other page.

Text and photos by: Jen Herzig Smith

When I saw the grass popping up in the strip of soil near the concrete that lines the fence and alley at the end of the driveway, I knew I’d seen her before. Up the street. From the hell strip in front of the neighbors white two story stucco home with the black iron fence. There were about four or five of them, like her, centered in the space in a straight row. I can’t tell you how long they were there I just remember that about the time I stopped noticing them they were gone.

I found myself keeping an eye on her. Her full wispiness catching sunlight and pushing herself out of the hard and soft earth. Before long she was waist height. In the heavy heat of summer her feathery yellow tips morphed into purple plumes. These plumes got me thinking and wondering. What would this color look like on cloth?

So, I took the clippers to her. Gently trimmed each stalk and carried handfuls to my work table in the garden. Taking each stalk in my fingers and gently pulling the flowers from the blades onto cheesecloth. Making sure to tie everything securely I dropped the satchel into the dye bath. Although the water was purple I wasn’t sure if the color would show up because, we never really know if it will show up. I left the cloth in the bath for an extra long time with hope. I pulled the cloth out and the softest gentlest pinkish purple showed up. And then it happened. This little moment. And that connected feeling. The one that makes my breath stop for a moment. I felt the connection to her, to the sidewalk where she sits. To the soil beneath and beyond her roots and my roots.

With all of the excitement and focus on the color I hadn’t taken the time to learn her name. So, I started researching. And there I found her. Purple Fountain Grass. I started seeing her in gardens all over Los Angeles. In the hills where we hike. And then I started to notice her on the sides of roads and in between houses all over the city, I realized she is very prolific. So prolific that she goes by another name in California. Invasive. This vague semi-definable term started to weigh heavy on me. Everyday I would see her flourishing. And then as I noticed others like her sprouting all over the driveway. I was torn. On one hand the color she produced was undeniably lovely. On the other hand she was part of an ecological problem. I realized I had a choice. It took me a year, I eventually painfully pulled her out of the ground. She made it difficult with her strength and perseverance. Every now and then she does her best to come back. I do the pulling as soon as I see her sprouting, with the hope of making it less painful for both of us.

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